27 August 2021

Leaving papers identifying British embassy workers in Kabul ‘not good enough’

27 August 2021

Documents identifying Afghan workers and job applicants have been found on the ground at the British diplomatic mission in Kabul, sparking criticism from the Defence Secretary.

Ben Wallace said Prime Minister Boris Johnson “will be asking some questions” about how the papers were left unsecure, adding: “Clearly it’s not good enough.”

Labour said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has “serious questions to answer” and that the destruction of sensitive materials should have been a “top priority”.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee is set to launch an inquiry after a journalist from the Times found the documents containing contact details of seven Afghans while on a tour through the city’s abandoned diplomatic quarter accompanied by a Taliban patrol on Tuesday.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reportedly rejected a request to speak with his Afghan counterpart about the evacuation of interpreters who worked for Britain two days before the fall of Kabul (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

Amid fears of Taliban reprisals for any locals who helped Western interests in the country, the documents included the name and address of a senior embassy staff member, other employees and their contact details, and the CVs and addresses of applicants for jobs as interpreters. Some applicants listed previous work for Western countries.

The Times said it called the numbers listed and found that some of the staff members had already been evacuated to the UK, but that others had been left behind.

Among them were three Afghan employees and eight family members, including five children, who were caught in the crowds at Kabul airport unable to access the British-controlled section of the facility. They were, however, eventually found and rescued.

The fate of at least two job applicants whose details were abandoned at the embassy remains unknown.

Mr Wallace told LBC radio: “We’ll find out and get to the bottom of it. The evidence looks pretty clear.

“Clearly it’s not good enough, simple as that.

“I think the Prime Minister will be asking some questions, I think we need to understand, quite rightly, how that happened.”

Former foreign and defence secretary Lord Hammond said there would have been a “big exercise in destroying documents” but any failures would be serious.

The Tory peer told Times Radio: “If some documents slipped through that net it’s extremely serious, a very serious lapse of security.”

The blunder was apparently made as staff hastily left the embassy when the Taliban reclaimed Kabul and ignored evacuation protocols of shredding and destroying all data that could compromise local workers.

The drawdown of our embassy was done at pace as the situation in Kabul deteriorated. Every effort was made to destroy sensitive material

It also came after Mr Raab rejected a request to speak with his Afghan counterpart about the evacuation of interpreters who worked for Britain two days before the fall of Kabul, while he was on holiday on Crete.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy urged the Government to “urgently assess” the individuals who have been exposed by the breach and whether operations may have been “compromised”.

“The Foreign Secretary has claimed he was too busy overseeing operational decisions to call the Afghan foreign minister. This incident raises questions about what precisely he was doing in the hours before Kabul fell to the Taliban,” the Labour MP said.

“The destruction of sensitive materials and the safe evacuation of the embassy should have been a top priority.”

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has acknowledged the apparent error, but said staff had tried to destroy sensitive material before leaving the embassy.

“We have worked tirelessly to secure the safety of those who worked for us, including getting three families to safety,” an FCDO spokesman said.

“During the drawdown of our embassy every effort was made to destroy sensitive material.”

Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee will carry out an inquiry into the incident, according to its chairman, Tom Tugendhat.

The Conservative MP said: “The evidence is already coming in.”

An FCDO source added that the Foreign Office is grateful to the Times for “sharing the information retrieved with us and working with us to enable us to get these three families to safety”.

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